books in colorful baskets

Tips for Sustained Silent Reading with Non-Readers

January 28, 2019 3 min read

Your school might do this once a year, once a week, or even every day! It has many names but two common ones are: Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) and D.E.A.R. time (D.E.A.R. stands for Drop Everything And Read). Whatever it is called, it is a specific time when students (or everyone) takes some time to just sit and read a book. This is done to encourage reading. Usually, the student should be able to choose whatever h/she wants to read. But how do you do this when you have K-4 non-readers and they cannot read silently for 30 minutes or more?

Books in colorful plastic baskets

When my school principal announced that all classes would participate in 30 minutes of silent reading during Read Across America Week, I had to get creative so my class could participate in this whole school activity!

I decided to break up 30 minutes into smaller chunks of time, then the kids could better handle. Next, I came up with reading/listening activities they would enjoy. Below is my thought process.

During the day we usually rotate through 15-minute groups. But I decided to make them into 3 ten-minute groups for three reasons. 1) Ten minutes of reading quietly might seem like a lot longer for the students, 2) If I divided the class into three groups I would have enough books for kids to not have to share and 3) there are three adults so each one could supervise a group. The first time I did this was during Reading Across America week, so the activities were all based on the school-wide theme. However, you could do this any time of year and with any theme, or no theme at all.

  • Groups:
Plastic red book bin with books in it. Bookmarks are sticking out of some of the books.
  1. Book baskets or bins. For this station, kids can choose a book bin from the class library or one of their own. They can read quietly or look at the pictures. Put books that go with the theme in each bin. Or you might only have one book per child…if that is the case, you might do a round robin, where each child is given a book, then after 2-3 minutes they pass the book to the person on the right, repeat until they have seen all books.
  2. Listen to read aloud with books on computers. You can use Read Aloud CDs (I used love getting these from Scholastic), or use YouTube read aloud videos, or Apps (such as Epic). If your computers don’t CD players, you may be able to get used ones at a thriftstore or ask friends or family members.
  3. Have an adult read it aloud: If there aren’t enough copies of the book you choose, then the teacher can show pictures with a document scanner on the big screen so all can see…either in small group or whole class.

To motivate non-readers (well, really everyone) to stay on task quietly, you could provide a special incentive. Here are a few ideas:

  • A stuffed animal they could hold. I found that this works best if there is an adult in each group to help monitor…they could move the animal to the next student every 2-3 minutes. Or, if you have enough, each student could have his/her own animal to read to.
  • You could provide a blank piece on construction paper bookmark. At each station, they can collect points for being on task. At the end of each station, or at the end of the 30 minutes, they can choose stickers for each point to decorate their bookmark with. (Or see the end of this post for a bookmark freebie.)
  • Use any other motivational tool you normally use (stars/points, punchcards, incentive charts, Class Dojo, stickers, etc.)
a set of four bookmarks that read, "I can read silently."

Finally, think about how you could do this activity once a month or more during the year. You could have a holiday theme such as Halloween, or focus on an academic area such as nonfiction or a specific science topic you are studying. Just choose different books that go with the theme and use those in the listening or silent reading groups. Please leave a comment if you have other ideas to add to this list! I would love to hear what other things you have done in your class. Thanks for reading and have a great day!

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